And then he went batshit crazy.
Anyway, Mel Gibson going crazy isn't what I'm talking about here. I'm talking about what I think is the last truly great (or at least very good) film that Gibson has given us. Brian Helgeland's Payback from 1999. Sure, The Patriot has it's moments, but it felt like a pale imitation of Braveheart in many ways. And while I liked Signs, he was probably the weakest link in that film. As a director he has given us The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto since 1999, but I hated the first and just kinda liked the second. Neither were up to the standards of the guy that we use to refer to as His Melness back in the day.
Anyway, my point is that I think Payback is great. Maybe that isn't the widespread opinion of the film, but I like it a lot.
If you haven't seen it yet, it's about a singularly-named thief (Porter) who is double-crossed by his partner and wife in the worst of ways. He spends the bulk of the film tracking down the money that was stolen from him. Working his way up the crime organization/syndicate from lieutenant to under-boss to boss until he finally gets what's coming to him.
It was filmed in the fashion of a 1950's film noir hard-boiled private detective story. Down to the washed-out blue tint that permeated the film and the wise-cracking first-person narrative.
But what I didn't know is that Brian Helgeland was fired from the project with scant weeks to go because his original vision was much darker than what eventually wound up on the big screen. Test audiences were thrilled with this side of Gibson or how un-mainstream it felt. Helgeland's version of Porter was colder and even more single-minded in the pursuit of his money. And his final product was maybe a little too dark for the studio. They wanted a happy ending and a more mainstream thriller. So they wrote an entirely new third act, added some humor and the narration. And it worked, for what it was worth.
Well, the powers that be gave Brian Helgeland to the opportunity to re-issue the film in his original vision. The blue tint was gone. The narration was gone. And almost the entire third act was gone. The character that was played by Kris Kristofferson in the theatrical release was relegated to a voice-over job by Sally Kellerman. It's amazing to me how much was changed in the two or three weeks after Helgeland left the film. Even the non-linear structure of the first film was removed...mostly. It simply became a story of a hard man walking into a city and pursuing his goal in the most straight-forward of ways. It's similar...but very different at the same time.
I loved the new/old film. Even more than the theatrical version, which I still really enjoy. If you are a fan of the original film or if you felt like it was just missing a little something then give Brian Helgeland's version a try.
It really is a totally different film.
Note: Remember to play the Bug-Eyed Trivia Challenge every day. Lucy Liu as a dominatrix is a bonus.